Burma (Myanmar)

Hello friends! I’m back. This time I will tell about a short trip in Burma (from 1989, renamed Myanmar).

Burma is an extraordinary place with a magical atmosphere, due to omnipresent Buddhist pagodas, and to the feeling of being really somewhere else, like out of our time. In fact, the strong isolation from the rest of the world due to the brutal military dictatorship, has on the other hand allowed Burma to preserve cultures, traditions and ways of life that almost certainly will disappear forever in the next few years with the arrival of the “progress”.

Anyway, for now we welcome with joy the news that just few days ago, after more than 50 years, it was elected the first president not related to the military junta. His name is Htin Kyaw, a loyalist of Aung San Suu Kyi, the energetic woman Nobel Peace Prize and symbol of the struggle against the dictatorship. She will be the Foreign Minister, since could not become President because an article of the constitution, probably created specifically against her, does not allow her to be president since her sons have British nationality.

 

The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, one of the most spectacular temples in the world. The huge central pagoda is surrounded by a myriad of small and large pagodas, little temples, Buddha images, demons and dragons, where you get lost as in a mystical dreamlike journey.

 

Over the centuries, the pagoda was gradually covered with gold. At the moment it is covered with about 60 tons of gold. At the top there are also embedded jewels and diamonds.

 

Buddhist monks and followers pray.

 

Buddhism is an integral part of Burma and, generally, the Burmese art is Buddhist art. The monks have always had an active part in political struggles, fighings for example against the British colonization and the military dictatorship.

 

During the day, there are cerimonies where children are brought on shoulder, followed by their relatives.

 

Young Buddhist pray.

 
Street in Yangon, formerly Rangoon and former capital. As with the name of the nation, to give a symbolic cut to the colonial past, the military junta has changed many names of cities, often by reintroducing the original name to that given by the British administration.

 

Coal sellers.

 

Florist.

 

Little Buddhist passing by street food carts.

 

The spectacular Bagan, where you can wander among some 2000 temples, built mostly between 1000 and 1200, when it was the capital of the kingdom of Pagan. They have survived to devastations, earthquakes and erosion. Instead, the other buildings of the city are completely gone, because they were made of wood.

 

Inside the temples there are Buddha statues.

 

Little girl.

 

One of the villages on Inle Lake.

 

Women washing and doing the laundry in one of the tributaries of Inle Lake.
 

With a unique technique, the Inle lake fishermen manage to stay balanced on the boat with one leg while paddling with the other leg and in the meantime use the arms for fishing.

 

Silhouette of fisherman.

 

Long black boats are used for moving on the lake.

 

People on a boat.

 

Every weekday, in turn, one of the villages around the lake is home to the market. On that day hundreds of boats arrive.

 

Workers.

 

The villages are made up of piles.

 

Blue stilt house.

 

Plow pulled by buffalo.

 

The typical “giraffe women” of Burma. I picked up those rings and they are also very heavy! And they put also at wrists and ankles. Then, a very uncomfortable ornament, maybe almost like walking on stilettos.
Actually this is one of the cases where we are assisting to the transformation of an ancient culture in its simulacrum. In fact, these women are part ethnic group of Kayan, which occupies an area on the east, near to the border with Thailand. But in recent years some of them are moving to the more touristy areas to sell souvenirs.

 

Finally, I went to Ngpali, where there is a long beach with bungalows. At the moment it is still a pretty wild place, where buildings must be lower than palms by law.
In the picture, one of the fishing villages near Ngpali beach.
In these western areas near the border with Bangladesh in recent years there have been tensions between Buddhists and Muslims, and, paradoxically, the most violent attacks were carried out by Buddhists.
Burma takes its name from its dominant ethnic group, but there are more than 100 races and ethnicities, with ever present autonomist claims and tensions between different groups.

 

Fishermen perform maintenance on a boat (or are pyromaniacs, I don’t know).

 

In the next days I will put a larger selection of photos and with better resolution on my photo page ( www.dekaro.com ).

Bye Bye! :-)

The Trans-Siberian in Russia

Dear friends, this time I write about the Trans-Siberian, the train that crosses the whole of Russia. Some of its branches reach Mongolia and China, however, the original stretch, more than 9,000 km long, is the one I did: Vladivostok – Moscow, built at the end of the nineteenth century.

To cover the entire stretch, the train takes six days and a half. Since it passes each two days, it is possible to go down and take the next one, or jump on other trains running in the meantime.

My journey lasted three weeks, I flight to Moscow, where I stayed a couple of days, and from there I took a domestic flight of nearly nine hours to Vladivostok, from where I returned to Moscow by train, through the vast Siberia, “the sleeping land”.

Vladivostok. Founded as a military fortress in 1860, later become also the main Russian port on the Pacific Ocean. It is in fact the Russian capital of the East, the main festivals of art and cinema, sporting events, and the most important international conferences involving the Pacific area take place here. It s a nice city, with roads going up and down on the hills and with two spectacular bridges that connect to nearby islands. Separated by a short stretch of sea from Japan, it is just about two hundreds kilometers from China and North Korea of the famous Kim Jong-un.

Since Vladivostok was the last city to surrender to the Red Army, in 1922, I thought it was a good idea to start from here, and going backwards westbound, making the trip with the declared aim of re-converting these stubborn Russians to Communism.

But how? – You may say – communism in Russia was a failure! He left the misery that was there, adding also an oppressive bureaucracy and police apparatus!
I know, but the point is that when there was communism in Russia, things were better for us Western European workers due to terror that inspired to the capitalist pigs, forced then to give more. So: reintroduce the communist monster in Russia and simply let that its specter restarts haunting Europe. That’s the idea. Let’s see if I can actualize.

“Dek but this talk is not very internationalist!”

Yes, I know. But I like AC Milan.

 

Olga, who hosted me in Vladivostok, through Couchsurfing. Very very kind, he took me around everywhere with his car and explained everything about the city.

Here we are in one of the many bunkers and forts now converted in museums, along with military ships and submarines. As I said, Vladivostok has always been a very important military area and until 1992 foreigners were not allowed to visit it!

 

Mermaid.

 

Certainly not the most beautiful woman in the world, and actually a little dreadful, and in fact we must respect her: she is the “Provodnitsa”, the boss of the wagon. Together with another lady, equally handsome, she had the total control of us passengers of the number 5 wagon on the stretch Vladivostok – Ulan Ude. For example, the first night, meanwhile I was quiet and lonely in the corridor drinking vodka, she imposed me to go inside my cabin to sleep!

 

The first part I did on the train was the longest, two and a half days, from Vladivostok to Ulan-Ude. The first two days the window’s scenery was somewhat monotonous, a not very dense endless forest. The stations where we stopped usually were just a single sad building in middle of nowhere, with no shops or street vendors, but just a couple of guards and railway workers.

On the third day, after a long dawn, we started to run along a river and the scenery became very spectacular. Shortly after sunrise, in the midst of the last puffs of mist that resisted the sun, on the river appeared strange birds and solitary fishing boats. Hour after hour the colors become more alive and we began to appear the little typical Siberian villages of colorful wooden houses with sloping roof sheet.

On the train the Russians were friendly but unfortunately they did not speak English, or just so little that was almost impossible to talk.

 

Yellow train with saint.

 

In Ulan-Ude, where time seems stopped at the typical Soviet Russia. In a rainy and lonely square stands out an imperious head of Lenin, the largest bronze head in the world.

The city is a few hundred kilometers north of Mongolia and in fact its population is largely of Mongolian descent, the Buryat.

However, almost all Russian cities that I have visited have still today a statue of Lenin in the main square, not considering its disturbing mummy in Red Square.

 

Since the Lenin head looks a little cross-eyed (and the reason is that locals asked his face to be more Asian-like, not kidding) we decided to donate sunglasses to the father of the revolution. The benefactor is the Finn Jaakko.

 

A Buddhist monk, in Ivolginsky Datsan, near Ulan-Ude.

The complex consists of a dozen ornate temples, with inside spectacular and sometimes extravagant statues and figures of gods and demons of the Mongolian Buddhism. Often, it is clear the iconographic influence of Hindu deities.

Strange to say, the Buddhist datsan was ordered by Stalin, for sure not a religions’ lover, to thank the locals for the commitment shown during the Second World War.

 

Again on the train, this time from Ulan-Ude to Irkutsk. It was the most spectacular stretch because it was by side of Bakal Lake, the largest lake in the world.

 

From the train window, Siberian houses.

 

Huts in Taltsy, near Irkutsk, a sort of museum of old Siberian dwellings in the forest. In the background the Angara River, a tributary of Lake Bakal.

 

Typical Siberian house in Listvyanka, a small town by Lake Baikal.

 

Windows.

 

Siberian road.

 

Autumn colors.

 

Back on the train. In the restaurant car sometimes I could meet someone who spoke English, as this Russian guy, Dmitrii, travelling for business reasons.

 

Tyumen, a neat and clean city. It was the first Russian outpost in Siberia. Today it is rich thanks to the oil of its region.

I visited it thanks to a very kind guy from there, Denis, that I met in the hostel when I was in Moscow. In the evening we went to the town’s thermal spa complex with hot mineral water pools, saunas etc … he took also a bath in the river nearby, trying in vain to convince me to do the same … yes, in Malta I didn’t swim in the sea before the end of July because I felt the water was too cold, imagine if I went bathing in a Siberian river at night!

 

I arrived on September 29 and it was Denis’ birthday. After midnight, we passed directly to celebrate mine. Luckily we were not in Wonderland where instead it is celebrated the not-birthday.

In the upper left, Denis. The guys on the right are two journalists and the one in the lower left is a musician. All extraordinarily friendly and intelligent.

 

An Orthodox church in Tyumen.

 

Old communist.

 

The beautiful Kazan, the former capital of the Tartars. On the left of the river Kazanka, shortly before flowing into the Volga.

 

Alisa, a girl from Kazan that lived few months in Malta, where we added on Facebook, without meeting in person. And instead we met in her hometown!

In the background, the illuminated buildings inside the Kremlin.

 

The mosque Qol Sarif, inside the Kazan Kremlin.

 

Street in Kazan.

 

Selfie in the mirror of the wagon of my last stretch, from Kazan to Moscow. I was lucky because I was alone in the wagon and the train was very modern and clean.

The hardest part of my train journeys was, instead, from Irkutsk to Tyumen. The train was old and shabby and I was in an open wagon, 4 people but no door, directly on the corridor where there were other beds along. A mess.

 

In Moscow, first and last stop of the journey, the workers are building the great Russia! For this photo I was inspired by the avant-garde collage of Soviet propaganda of the ’30s. In this case they are preparing the scaffolding for a big parade in Red Square. This time not to celebrate Stalin, but the assignment of the World football Cup 2018 to Russia. Remove a religion, another religion comes.

 

The last night in Moscow in the Red Square there was an extraordinary show. The St. Basil’s Cathedral was illuminated with lights and colorful pictures that transformed it like a in a fairy tale. Meanwhile, a voice explained its history.
 

Also on the facade of a nearby theater there was a show of lights.

 

Skyscrapers.

 

Comrades, don’t despair! The victory is near!